Henry Fielding served at Bow Street Office as a Westminster magistrate between 1748 and 1754 and was well-placed to comment on what he considered was a disintegration in public morals and an associated rise in crime. Fielding sat regularly to hear cases of petty theft and misdemeanours, and believed that much of the crime wave in these years was caused principally by the ‘preference for luxury’ among the poor: gin drinking, gambling and prostitution, for example, and a reluctance to keep regular employment.
Many of Fielding’s political pamphlets written in the late 1740s and 1750s reflect the ‘moral panic’ that was taking place among the ruling classes in Britain at this time. Concerns were raised in 1749 for example following the ending of the War of Austrian Succession, when 80,000 ex-sailors and soldiers returned from battle, many of whom had no way of supporting themselves except through crime. Many people like Fielding believed that this mass demobilisation was directly responsible for the rise in felonies being prosecuted by the courts at this time.